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Abstract

Recordings of natural speech play a central role in the diverse subdisciplines of linguistics. The reliance on speech recordings is especially profound in sociolinguistics, where scholars have developed a range of techniques for eliciting and analyzing natural speech. However, sociolinguists have rarely focused explicitly on the storage, management, and preservation of their data – the interfaces to their data – and this lack of focus has had consequences for the advancement of the field. In this essay, I briefly review the history of data-management practices within sociolinguistics, insofar as these practices have been discussed in the literature. I then propose new ways to consider and approach natural speech recordings as data for sociolinguistic analysis and provide examples from the North Carolina Sociolinguistic Archive and Analysis Project, a Web-based digitization and preservation project, to highlight the analytical as well as theoretical benefits of more rigorous considerations of ‘data’ within sociolinguistics.